April 26, 2005 / Design / Spring 2005

Let’s Talk Heavy Metal

Written by Lyle Vasser

Hot foil and metalgloss are among a wide variety of features that can be used to create a dynamite cover.

THE THEME HAS BEEN SELECTED, THE BUDGET IS SET, AND NOW THE STAFF MUST COME UP WITH A COVER IDEA FOR THE YEARBOOK THAT TRULY CONVEYS THEIR MESSAGE ABOUT THE SCHOOL YEAR. WALSWORTH HAS EXTREMELY TALENTED PROFESSIONAL DESIGNERS TO HELP YOU WITH THIS TASK. Walsworth also has a variety of pre-designed covers to choose from in its Portfolio booklet that comes in the Kit. But like a painter getting ready to paint, if you do not know what paints and canvases are available, how do you know what you can achieve?

There are basically two cover types – decorated and litho. Decorated covers are considered “old school” style. The cover material is leather-like – actually acrylic-permeated paper – with embossing, silk screen, and/or hot foil applied. Litho – short for lithographically printed covers – are the “shiny” covers that look more like printed magazine covers.

Decorated covers are the more traditional style of yearbook covers. Your parents and especially your grandparents probably have this kind of cover for their yearbook. But even though this is the “old school” style of cover, you can get a contemporary look from today’s materials.

The most important step in designing a decorated cover is determining what color cover material you want. Walsworth offers multitudes of colors and a variety of cover material styles. Remember, the cover material will be the most predominant color since it covers the entire book.

Silk screen is an inexpensive way to apply a design and copy to the decorated cover material. Walsworth offers a rainbow of silk screen inks. Drawbacks of this application are the colors cannot be easily blended and do not hold extreme detail.

One of the most powerful silk screen effects does not even use color. Clear silk screen applied to a matt finish cover material yields a subtle yet powerful result. The glossy application on a dark matt cover material is very striking without changing the color of the material, just the sheen of it. Keep in mind you cannot tint or shade clear silk screen and you will have great results. This application works well for background effects.
Metalgloss works well for seals and medalions.

Glossy is good but dazzling is better. You cannot get much more dazzling than foil. This is the most popular cover application by far. Be aware that it costs a little more to apply but is well worth the effect. Foil is applied to the cover by a die-stamping process. The die works just like a rubber stamp except through a machine, tons of pressure and extreme heat press the foil permanently into the cover material.

Walsworth has a very diverse selection of foils to choose from and our company is one of the best in the industry in applying it. Walsworth has won international awards for its expertise in applying foils to its covers. They even have clear holographic foils. Just do not forget to put on your sunglasses to view the selection. Foil is great for highlights and titles. One rule of thumb about the use of foil – a little goes a long way. For example: For an illustration of a panther jumping out of the cover, just a speck of hot foil to highlight the eyes instead of covering the entire eye is a much more effective use of this application. Foil can be applied to litho and decorated covers.

Let’s talk heavy metal. Metalgloss is like foil except it is a thicker metal – think pie pan – that can hold finer detail. Metalgloss is great for school crests or seals or medallion-like designs. Many schools use this application when celebrating 25th and 50th anniversaries. Military schools tend to use this a lot as well.

Embossing is literally “impressive” since it impresses an image into the cover. This can be done on decorated and litho covers. This process is very similar to the foil process except foil is not applied. All the decoration is provided in the die which stamps the raised image into the cover. This is a really serious upgrade that adds the distinction of actual dimensionality to your cover. Any book can have a flat cover but to have one embossed is really special and makes what you want to emphasize literally stand out. Having a Walsworth-embossed cover makes it doubly special, since Walsworth is the only yearbook publisher that uses exclusive embossing dies that do not have a debossed ridge or “ditch” around the area that is embossed. This takes a little more expertise but the effect of an embossed area rising from the surface of a cover without a “ditch” around it is well worth it.

Embossing in its simplest form is just a raised area, but an area can be debossed by pressing the image down into the cover instead of raising it. Review: Emboss = Up, Deboss = Down. This effect works well with images such as footprints, handprints and paw prints.

The most exclusive and expensive embossing technique is called sculptured embossed. George Washington’s portrait on a quarter is a great example of a sculptured emboss effect. A very skilled artisan has to actually sculpt the image in metal (the die) and that is then pressed into the cover. To have your mascot or school embossed into the cover with all the intricate details that make the image come to life will make your cover a true work of art. Make sure you avoid using sculptured embossed on cover material that has a pattern in it. This will camouflage the image and the details in the raised effect are significantly reduced. Sculptured embossed looks best on Walsworth’s Premium Rich Matte cover materials.


In medieval times when books were rare, books were quarter-bound where they would wear the most. This means a stronger material, usually leather, was applied to the spine and corners of a cover, thus a quarter of the book was bound by this material. Today, an even richer effect can be achieved by quarter-binding your cover in not one but two different cover materials. You can even have a decorated cover material quarterbound with a litho cover and get the best of both worlds.

Litho covers are definitely “new school.” The spectacular effects InDesign and Photoshop can produce have contributed to an explosion of popularity of full-color lithographic covers. With almost all the colors seen by the human eye available, almost any imagery can be printed on a litho cover.

These covers are sometimes called the “shiny” covers. This is referring to the lamination applied to the cover. Lamination is a film of protective plastic that protects the ink printed on the paper underneath. Walsworth offers three choices of lamination – gloss (shiny), deluster (matte or no shine), and satin (not too shiny, not too matte).

If you have a design that has really bright colors, then a gloss lamination will probably be right for you. If your cover has a more natural theme, maybe the deluster lamination is best. If you cannot make up your mind, go with satin.

Spot color litho printing means only a few colors are used to print the cover. Black, of course, is the most popular and the white, in a black and white design, is the paper or material the image is printed on. Although you are limited in color, you are unlimited in imagination. In some respects, the fewer choices of color actually help focus the design.
Linen feels like your favorite pair of blue jeans.

One of the neatest trends in covers is to print a single color photo on a linen cover. Some nice color combinations are black ink on red linen, silver ink on navy linen and black ink on khaki linen. These covers have a “lived-in” feel, just like your favorite pair of blue jeans.

The creme de la creme of spot colors is a metallic spot color, in which the link has metallic flecks that make it reflect light. (Have you noticed its all about the shine in yearbooks?)

This is a confusing term because it actually means you can almost have all the colors in the rainbow. A brief explanation of how it works is this: four ink colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and their tints mix together to create almost all the colors commonly seen in photography. This is the printing process used with almost all magazines and books.

A four-color litho cover is the most flexible cover choice. Photographs, illustrations, graphic designs – almost anything can be featured on a four-color litho cover. One little known fact about four-color covers is that you can mimic some of the more expensive processes explained previously. For example, the illusion of a decorated cover can be duplicated in four-color easily by printing a scanned image of the cover material used. Then through a program such as Photoshop, graphics can be made to appear embossed or even foil-stamped. This will look like the more expensive cover, but it will not have the luxurious feel of the leather-like cover material. This can be an option for staffs with a limited budget.

Do not forget, embossing and foils can be added to a litho cover for some spectacular effects. A four-color litho cover with foil applied is the most popular cover application. If you doubt the effect of this look, check out this combination on toothpaste boxes and paperback novels.

Never underestimate the power of touch. One of the more subtle, and inexpensive, applications to a four-color cover is a feature called graining. Graining is a texture that is lightly embossed on a cover. The texture of leather, canvas, granite, and even snakeskin can be impressed into your cover. You can apply a grain to all of the decorated cover materials to bump up the texture but when it goes on a four-color litho cover with glossy lamination… look out. The subtle grain takes on a “wet” look that really gets attention. An excellent example of this application is a water-themed design with Walsworth’s Whirlpool grain applied to the “water” areas of the design, which looks and almost feels like actual water. Another favorite effect is to grain a solid color on the cover to mimic a quarterbound book. If you are going for the illusion of a decorated book, use the deluster lamination so the not-so-glossy look of the decorated book carries through.

Here is a hot tip… tip-on covers include a decorated cover with a litho decal or sticker “tipped-on” the cover. These covers give you the best of both worlds: the look and feel of a decorated cover with the color flexibility of litho printing. For a really classy look, go for the traditional school colors in cover materials then tip-on a distinguished picture of the school mascot and you have a cover that defines school spirit.

Yearbook covers can get outrageous. Some schools have tremendous budgets to match their extensive imaginations. Staffs seem to enjoy seeing how Walsworth designers can make their vision come to life.

One of the most interesting materials used in cover designs has been Plexiglas to create a see-through, yes see-through, cover. Walsworth has even developed a way to give the illusion that the Plexiglas is engraved with a graphic or type. Just remember, if you get a chance to do a cover like this, that the endsheet design becomes all important since that is what is viewed through the cover.

As for seeing the endsheet through the cover, some customers have simple shapes and words actually cut through the front cover. These are called die-cut covers. Once again, the endsheet becomes part of the cover design when this option is used. Advances in laser-cutting could make this an even more exciting avenue in the future since even more complex shapes and graphics can be cut through the cover.

One of the coolest effects of die-cutting was a school whose theme was “Changing Faces.” Walsworth actually cut the cover into three sections so that each section could be lifted to reveal a different person’s face beneath on the endsheet. It really presented a “presto-change-o” effect.

A few schools have had covers that offered the same design but printed on different colored material. A third of the student body received red books, another third received blue books and another third received green books.

To get across the theme of a surprise, some schools have created decorated covers with four-color dust jackets. The dust jacket is paper that wraps around the cover. Decorated as a present with ribbons and bows, it was an effective piece.

A unique one-of-a-kind cover was produced many years ago with a beach theme. The cover was litho-printed with a beautiful beach scene and then tipped-on over the four-color litho cover was a see-through plastic pocket with sand and sea shells permanently sealed inside. The actual article was displayed over the photograph. It was neat but the owner of the book had to be careful not to damage the pocket or they could have a mess.

One outrageous tip-on effect that appears every so often is the cover with a game spinner fastened to the cover. The spinner can be spun to play a game that corresponds to the theme of the book. The most popular theme for this is, naturally, “The Game of Life.”

The miniaturization and reduction in costs of electronics has led to some covers incorporating musical chips that play as the cover is opened. School songs programmed into the chips are a big hit. Another use of electronics, which hasn’t been fully realized yet, is the use of small lights embedded into the cover. Could you imagine blinking lights on your yearbook cover? How cool would that be? Maybe even further into the future it will not be unusual for covers to incorporate small plasma screens playing some of the biggest events from the school year. One thing for sure, yearbook covers of the future will only be limited by our imaginations.

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Lyle Vasser